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The man who helped feed the world


In the early 1900s, newlyweds Cathy and Cappy Jones left Connecticut in the US to start a new life as farmers in north-west Mexico’s Yaqui Valley, a little-known dry and dusty place, a few hundred kilometres south of the Arizona border.

When Cappy died in 1931, Cathy decided to stay on. By then she had a new neighbour: the Yaqui Valley Experiment Station, a grand agricultural research centre with impressive stone pillars, and cleverly designed irrigation canals.

For a while, the centre raised cattle, sheep and pigs, and grew oranges, figs and grapefruit.

But by 1945, the fields were overgrown, the fences fallen and the windows shattered. The station was infested with rats.

So when Cathy heard strange rumours about a young American man setting up camp in this dilapidated place – despite the lack of electricity, sanitation, or running water – she drove over to investigate.

There she found the Rockefeller Foundation’s Norman E Borlaug, who was trying to breed wheat which could resist stem rust, a disease that ruined many crops.